By Kelly Bruce
My hometown is a place that I affectionately refer to as a drinking town with a fishing problem:Sebastian, Florida. The gateway to the tropics. I grew up on the Sebastian River… gators, mullet, manatees and tarpon in my backyard. I took it for granted then, but I have an entirely new appreciation for it now.
When I was about 5 or 6, my grandmother taught me how to fish. We’d go to the bait shop, get live shrimp and fish from her dock on the Indian River Lagoon in Eau Gallie, Florida. We caught sea trout and sheepshead on that inaugural outing. I remember those first two trout I caught, I wouldn’t even touch. I held them with clothespins for the photograph! Nevertheless, I was hooked.
My grandparents also had a summer home in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Their spring-fed pond was always stocked with giant rainbow and golden trout… but those fish were for “the guests” and immediate family apparently didn’t qualify. Every once in a while, after some begging and pleading, my grandmother would let me catch one. I’d tease those monster trout with my lure, watching them chase it around so eagerly. I’d eventually tire of the game and let the biggest one take the hook, reeling it in with a giant grin. Then my grandfather would lay out newspapers on the picnic table, clean it and into the pan it would go.
Later in life, I took up offshore fishing. Mahi mahi (dolphin) were my favorite. I’d fish for live bait the night before and help the guys rig up ballyhoo. We’d head out of Biscayne Bay in Miami at sunrise into the great expanse of the Atlantic, looking for weed lines and frigate birds in the distance. It was always a thrill to hear those reels scream, followed by a mad dash to be the first to get your hands on a rod and start cranking. Fighting a mahi is so thrilling, especially when they jump out of the water. When they’re close to the boat, you can see them all lit up, yellow, green and blue. Then into the cooler they go, destined for the fryer and our happy bellies.
Long, hot days in the Keys make for balmy nights fishing for snapprr along the reef in Big Pine. Once you’re on a school, Jackpot! You’re reeling in one after another. It’s so much fun.And good eating, too.
These days, however, my style of fishing has evolved into something dramatically different. Now, I stalk small rivers, streams and lakes in search of brook, brown and rainbow trout. I learned to fly fish in Colorado, yet again under the instruction of a woman. I went to a ladies fly fishing event at Denver Fly Shop. A group of feisty females took me under their wing and lent me gear, tackle and their friendship.
I always felt intimidated by fly fishing, the artistry of the hand-tied flies and rhythmic casting – not to mention the cost of the gear. But a week later, I stood freezing in January in the chilly tailwaters of Lake Pueblo on the Arkansas River, knee to thigh deep in my very first fly fishing trip. I caught three and netted two rainbow trout. I was so proud of those tiny fish! And I had an even better time with my newfound fishy tribe.
These days, I don’t even need to catch a fish to enjoy a day on the river. I get immense satisfaction out of seeing my friends and loved ones catch and release a tiny brookie. There’s something about the beautiful sights and soothing sounds of a river that eases my worries and makes my soul happy.
The thrill of releasing one of these beautiful creatures back into the wild is one of my favorite things in the world. I’ve learned to be mindful of the fight and handle the fish gently, keeping it in the water as much as possible. I love the euphoric feeling I get when that tail swishes and the fish jets out of my hands back to the safety of its habitat.
I’m a recovering perfectionist and fly fishing has taught me that you don’t have to have the perfect cast and presentation to catch fish – although it sure does help! However, the challenge of this this artful sport sure gives me something to strive for.
Kelly Bruce is a fifth generation Floridian and mermaid at heart. She loves adventuring with her two dogs and 1960 Airstream trailer @RivetedRoost in tow. Her career has spanned the journalism, marketing and communications fields, but her true passion is spending time in nature and inspiring people to get outside and explore. Kelly is certified as a forest therapy guide by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy and as a Level 1 + 2 SUP Instructor by the American Canoe Association. Kelly is thrilled to bring forest therapy to Western North Carolina through her guide service, Natural Wanders.